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Arbitration date set for police negotiations in Sterling

Published: Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

STERLING – An arbitration session has been scheduled in the ongoing contract negotiations between the city and its police union.

City Administrator Scott Shumard said an arbitrator would step in on Oct. 2, if no deal is hammered out by then.

“I guess something could be done before that time, but it’s been more than a year since the last contract expired,” Shumard said. “There’s not a lot of motivation to hurry, if the increase is modest and will be retroactive.”

The city’s contract with its police department expired April 30, 2013. Because the jobs are in the public safety arena, the existing contract is automatically extended until a new labor agreement is reached with the department.

An arbitration session had been scheduled for May, but the union requested that a mediator be used instead. The mediator was brought in and was unable to help the sides reach a deal.

A mediator presides over a meeting to facilitate negotiations as an unbiased third party, while an arbitrator is entrusted with handing down a decision in the matter. The decision is usually binding for both parties.

The city ratified a new 3-year contract with its fire department union at a special council meeting on June 23. The firefighters will get a 1.75 percent raise in the first and second years of the deal, and a 2.5 percent raise in the final year, for a total of 6 percent over the life of the contract.

The trickiest part of those negotiations was to bring the three captains into the union.

“From the get-go, we knew there would be a lot of language changes to bring the captains under the umbrella,” said Lt. Matt Laughlin, the fire department’s union representative. 

The fire department contract had expired April 30, but both sides called it a relatively smooth process this time around.

While Laughlin said wages and salaries were the only thing negotiated in the fire contract, several other issues are sticking points for the police union.

“There are numerous issues here – financial, time off and scheduling issues,” Shumard said.

One of those issues is a 12-hour shift agreement that was introduced on a trial basis in the current contract. The 12-hour shifts result in alternating 3-day and 4-day workweeks.

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